Like many parents with toddlers, we are watching Disney's hit movie Encanto for the 372nd time. Cuddled on the couch with my little girls, I do what I always do when I watch this movie, marvel at all the gems of lessons sprinkled all throughout the movie.
Ever since I saw the movie for the first time, I have had the yearning to write about what I see in the story, the messages that left my jaw heading south and those that filled my heart with hope and joy. So, here it goes.
1) Grief brings with it a gift
I had to start with the big one. How can it be? How can losing something actually add to our lives?
Abuela is Mirabel's grandmother and the head of the Madrigal family. She tells her grandchildren the story of how her husband was killed, leaving her with triplets. One can imagine the agonizing grief she endured as a young woman sadly widowed with three kids to raise by herself. As she feels the grief deep into her soul, she receives a gift that arose from the river witnessing her plight. A gift in the form of a burning candle that would never die out but would give rise to a magical house where her descendants would thrive in, where they would receive unique magical powers of their own for generations to come.
We are reluctant to accept loss as an inevitable part of living. it simply is the way things are. As we gain, we also lose. As we receive, we must also let go. This lesson is perfectly represented here. When we feel grief in the rawest form and allow it to move through us, we surrender the need to control, the compulsion to resist. This openness is the portal through which new gifts can enter. New people, experiences and leaps forward that we never thought possible lay in front of us, burning and promising to bless us for generations to come.
2) Pride in belonging can not substitute your individual light
The story's heroine, Mirabel Madrigal is the only family member out of the Madrigals who was not given a gift when she came of age. With no explanation as to why, she seems to have grown up compensating for the lack of a unique gift by the need to belong to the 'amazing madrigals' which she demonstrates in a song she sings to kids in the village that are very inquisitive about her family. She highlights all the great things members of her family can do and the very many ways they are special, drawing her sense of pride from her belonging to their tribe, as she dodges questions about what her gift is. Made uncomfortable by the relentlessness of the nosey neighborhood kids in her pursuit, she keeps repeating her family's story, values and vision for the future as she runs and hides.
While belonging to a group or a community is a very important phenomenon for the social animals we are, too many people hide behind social, cultural, religious, racial and political groups and gain their identity and pride through being enclosed by them. They seldom ask themselves what they individually think, what their unique quest and yearnings may be, where their soul's solo journeys may take them. Instead they take refuge in the comfort of the collective and avoid the plight of having to disrupt the convenience of being one of many. At some point, the questions they dodge may catch up to them, usually in what resembles the dark night of the soul and and they find out they will need to dive within so they may thrive without.
3) People are mirrors
Mirabel refuses to admit just how much being the only one without a gift in her magical family really affects her. But she seems to be surrounded by people who remind her just that. All her singing and dancing and insisting that her belonging to the powerful family was good enough can not fool those around her who can't help but reflect back what she is truly feeling. Sad, left out, not good enough and unsure why she was different.
While others use this knowledge to confront her and make her uncomfortable, we see her parents reminding her that she has nothing to prove. Because they know that when we feel less than others, we become 'yes' people tin order o feel like we, too, matter.
4) Broken people give the best advice
In an intimate scene under her bed, mirabel encourages her little cousin who is nervous about his gift ceremony. After her own ceremony went wrong, unsure how her cousin's was about to unfold, she puts her feelings aside and becomes just what he needs in that moment. A guide and a friend.
Sometimes we think we get the best support from people who seem to have it all figured out but the truth is those who are getting their asses kicked in the ring are better councilors than those who simply watch the fight unfold and are unscarred. Seek guidance from people who are unafraid and unashamed to fail, those who know heartache, are unsure but somehow reassuring, are willing to hold your hands on your journey, those who can relate to your pain and dilemmas and are least likely to judge you. The same way you wouldn't seek medical advice from a physician who's never gotten ill, leave the 'perfect image' projectors out of your support circles.
5) Someone's gain doesn't have to be your loss
Mirable's cousin, to the family's relief, is getting his gift after all. One can only imagine the mixed feeling in Mirabel as she witnesses the door come alive and the candle burn brighter. On one hand, relief that the family miracle is safe and can continue, on the other, anguish as it becomes clear that she has been skipped. The last nail in the coffin that is the years of having to prove herself that she can be gift-less and still belong.
We can be happy for people getting something we desperately want but don't have. Someone else gaining need not make us resent them or resent our luck. Resting in what the present offers is the only way to see things clearly. Mirabel will soon have a revelation about how she really feels and connect with her true feelings.
6) You have to feel it to heal it
"I'm fine" Mirabel sings to herself as she witnesses her family celebrate their gifts without her, not noticing she was not even in the family picture. "Don't be upset or sad at all" she continues, bottling her feelings and giving proximity and belonging as a reason to be glad regardless of the reality of her emotions that is gnawing at her.
Then she erupts "I'm not fine" and admits her true feelings. She expresses her sadness and wishing for things to be different, allows herself to feel envy towards her sisters. She comes to the realization that she is still in many ways stuck in front of the door waiting for it to come alive. Through being true to her emotions, she finds readiness to seek what her gift is.
Bottled up emotions can not be healed. They keep us stuck and lying to ourselves. Many of us need to admit and accept that we are sad, angry, disappointed, envious, ashamed and many more emotions we were thought to not express as they are 'bad'. Embrace our shadow selves. Truth is, your feelings are your truths in that scenario and they carry with them a revelation that will take you forward into your healing.
7) Parents, don't miss a good opportunity to be vulnerable to your kids
Mirabel discovers that the miracle is in danger. However, her grandmother Abuela and most of the rest of the family is suspecting that this is just one way of Mirable asking for the attention she couldn't get without a gift. The story then evolves to revel that Abuela has actually known that the magic was in danger for a while. Mirabel eavesdrops on her grandma and witnesses her in a way she has never seen this strong and in- charge woman before: desperate for answers, scared and in need of guidance.
Our parents had a way of being with us that was centered around them being in control of everything at all times. They mostly meant it to protect us from the worries of day to day life but some of it was also because they wanted to appear perfect in our eyes. This way of being with kids is the enemy of connection as there is no true connection without vulnerability.
Not to suggest we must burden our kids with our adult issues but we must not try to seem perfect and always in control. They will grow up and find out that we are far from perfect and we would have lost precious opportunities to connect with them while we can.
8) Strongest facades often hide those in need of the most help
Louisa is One of Mirabel's sister's whose gift is strength. She has the physique of a body builder and does so much work for the family and the community. But when given the opportunity to be vulnerable, she confides in Mirable and confesses how exhausting it is to be her. To her sister's surprise, she speaks about how desperately she needs to rest and enjoy simple pleasures instead of trying to please everyone under the over of "serving others"
This lessons cuts deep. I am a recovering people pleaser and to this day struggle with equating my worth with how much I can handle and how many I can serve. Some seasons come when I overdo it to the extent that I experience burnouts and find out that I can not serve anyone at all.
If you are Louisa or know someone in your life who is, please remind them to care for themselves and always make time to do nothing. In a culture that teaches us to value striving, enjoyment is frowned upon or at best rationed sparingly, accompanied with guilt even then.
Self care, yes the buzz phrase itself, is the lifeline for the Louisas in the world.
9) Your gift should enrich your life, not enslave you
We see how Louisa finds her identity in being the one who everyone can count on. Counting 'yes' and 'got it' at the sight of a need. It's also clear to see how being this way has made her resentful.
If you are resenting what you do, something is wrong. If you are mustering the strength to handle everything thrown at you, it's only a matter of time before you reach your breaking point. Living in alignment with your purpose should feel light, joyous and leave room for self discovery, rest and joy. Your purpose should leave room for your evolution and not be a source of rigid identity that if taken away could leave you feeling worthless and empty.
10) We MUST talk about Bruno
Bruno is the black sheep in the family. The outcast, the misfit who saw a vision about the miracle being in danger and had to vanish as a result. Bruno's gift is one with the highest potential to make others uncomfortable because he simply tells the truth of what is revealed to him in the future.
This world can be an unfair place for many who are different. Misfits who are and see the world in a way that may make others uncomfortable and are hence avoided as much as possible. Communities especially like the one I was raised in believes in silence when it comes to people and topics that create discomfort. We simply don't go there. And therefore we remain stuck in the past.
We and not move forward and heal in unison until we address everything and include everyone. Only difficult conversations take us ahead.
Brunos are and have gifts too. They belong.
11) Fear is contagious
After her determination to find out the secret about bruno, the family wastes no opportunity to depicts a scary Bruno who is synonymous with trouble itself. By the end of the song, we hear Mirabel herself regret bringing up Bruno.
If you subscribe to fear and those who preach it, it's a matter of time before you yourself start mimicking their vibrations and echoing their messages.
Mind your environments, friendships, timelines and shows you watch. You are what you consume.
12) The pursuit of perfection is a cage
Isabella is a good example of how we assume people who seem to have it all from the outside are happy on the inside too. The girl who makes perfect roses and has never even had a bad hair day was actually miserable inside and felt joy only when she spoke her truth for the first time. Her relief came in the way of creating something new and imperfect, which she has been secretly craving all along. She dances and jumps freely while she wonders what else she can create now that she has given herself permission
Remember this next time you make an assumption about someone's life being better than you because they are perfect.
13) The person you try to please the most may be the one you will never be good enough for
Before Abuela has her realization, she was too hard on Mirabel. At one point even blaming her for ruining the miracle and the family's future as revenge for not getting a gift. This is a woman Mirabel tried all her life to please the most.
Looking back in my life, the people I tried to be everything for, always said yes to, pleased as I betrayed myself were the ones I eventually had to distance myself from because the more I tried, the harder it felt to make them value me. Search in your life for any takers who stand to benefit from you being unsure of yourself and go about the business of healing yourself in that relationship because sooner or later you will awaken to the fat that you may never win their approval.
14) Broken things heal stronger
Encanto is a metaphor for healing. Healing isn't pretty not it's journey marred with roses. It's messy, it's painful. Hard things are felt, said, witnessed and more often than not, relationships, dreams and visions are leveled to the ground before rebuilding can begin.
We are terrified of rocking the boat and interrupting comfort ones that we sit with diseased relationships and painful realizations. We accept unhappiness as fate because if we dare question that, reality as we know it will be disturbed and the devil you know is better than the angel you don't, right?
No. Let some relationships die, rock the boat, challenge your beliefs, declare war and burn things down so you may raise a new forest to your liking. broken bones may hurt but they heal stronger.
15) When Mothers heal, so do generations
The most powerful scene in the movie for me was when Abuela sits down with Mirabel and shares with her everything she has been through. She reveals the human behind. Vulnerably inviting her into her world as a young wife who was widowed too soon.
There she makes a powerful and healing discovery. That out of fear of losing the miracle that gave her a second chance, she had held on too tight to it. Too tight that she couldn't 'see' the family and the people in it for who they are beyond their gifts. Lettin g their gifts matter more than themselves.
This truth brings healing to her, and then that healing trickles down the whole family.
What a moment! As someone who has a lot of mother-daughter healing done and some still left to do, this warmed my heart.
If you are healing from generational trauma, seeing your mother for the human being she is /was is crucial. Myah Angelou said "I am human. Therefore, nothing human can be alien to me" so there is nothing you fault your parents and especially your mothers for that you can not understand and even forgive. If they are alive, ask about their lives, and truly listen. Put yourselves in their place and understand that they did their best with what they had. Acknowledge their pain. Validate them. Embrace them.
This is how you heal and break patterns of pain from repeating themselves.
Encanto is a movie about how we do just that.